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Glossary of gowns

When you are shopping for your gown and accessories, you may hear certain words and terms that are unfamiliar to you. Find out more with our glossary.

Gown Silhouettes

A-line/Princess: This gown is narrow at the bodice and has vertical seams that flow down to a slightly flared-out skirt.

Asymmetrical: The bottom of the skirt of this dress, as well as perhaps several layers of fabric comprising the skirt, is cut on a diagonal angle.

Ballgown: This gown has a fitted bodice that comes in at the waist and then flares out to a full, floor-length skirt with lots of volume for a more formal and traditional bridal look.

Column: This dress has a fitted bodice and a narrow, tailored look over the waist and hips, and flows straight to the floor. It has no flares, no poufs, and is not as fitted as a sheath dress. It can be floor-length, or shortened to calf-length for a more informal wedding.

Empire: This gown is Victorian in style, featuring a fitted bodice with a skirt that starts at the base of the bustline and comes down in a straight, slim line to the floor.

Mermaid: This dress is form-fitting from the bust to a nipped-in waist, skimming the hips and then reaching the knees, where the fabric flares out in dramatic fashion like a mermaid’s tail.

Sheath: This is a close, form-fitting dress from the bodice all the way down to the skirt. It may have a slit at the legs to make walking easier.

Gown Lengths

Ankle-length: As the name suggests, this gown reaches right to your ankles, and is hemmed to flatter  your wedding shoes.

Ballerina: This gown has a full skirt that extends to just above the ankles.

Floor length: The skirt of this dress just reaches the floor, with the hem extended for a gentle glide where your shoes cannot be seen.

Intermission: Also cocktail length, this dress reaches anywhere between the knees and the ankles, with the most common length being mid-calf.

Hi-low: A dual-level dress, the front of the skirt is Intermission length, then extends gradually lower along the sides down to floor length at the back.

Knee-length: The skirt reaches to or just below the knee.

Miniskirt: The skirt reaches 2-4 inches above the knee.

Street length: The skirt reaches an inch or two below the knee.

Tea-length: Also called a cocktail-length dress, the skirt reaches mid-shin.

gown-glossary

Skirt Styles

Ballgown: The skirt is fitted at the bodice and waist, and then poufs out into a bell shape.

Flared: The skirt is fitted at the waist, and then flares out into a tulip shape at the hem.

Flounce: This is a looser skirt that flares out and has a ruffle at the hem.

Front slit: This skirt has a slit on a frontal side seam, usually along the leg and not in the middle, that allows for movement.

Pannier: This skirt has fabric draping on both hips as an extra layer to accent a more sheath-style dress.

Pencil: This skirt hangs straight down, with no flare at the hem or accent at the waist.

Peplum: A very short ruffled skirt layer over a pencil skirt, originally a 1940s style of skirt. The ruffled layer may be horizontal in shape or extended down in a back V-shape.

Pleated: This skirt has varying numbers of pleats running vertically most often along the front, but it may also extend fully around the skirt. Multiple pleats are called accordion style pleats and two larger pleats are called box style pleats.

Side slit: This skirt has a slit at the side of the leg, allowing for movement.

Straight: The skirt extends straight down, with no flare at the hem. A longer version of the pencil skirt, this skirt might reach the floor.

Tiered: The skirt is made up of several overlapping layers of different lengths. There are usually three layers, but there may be more depending on style.

Wrap: The skirt overlaps and wraps at the waist. This is a more informal style ideal for destination weddings and bridesmaid dresses.

Bodices

Asymmetrical: The fabric in this type of bodice covers one shoulder, or attaches over one shoulder with a strap, leaving the other shoulder bare.

Basque: This is a long, tight-fitting bodice that finishes in a V-shape at the front of the dress.

Corset: This type of bodice hugs the body with hook, snap or laced back securing. It may be strapless or strapped, criss-cross strapped or braid-strapped.

Empire: This type of bodice is fitted at the chest, and the fabric hangs straight down under the bust. This is a very romantic look, and one favored by pregnant brides and bridesmaids.

Midriff: This type of bodice reaches down to just below the ribs, baring the stomach. 

Princess-line: This bodice is formed by two vertical seams that angle over the bustline down to the hem.

Surplice: The fabric in this kind of bodice is crossed at the front or the back, and sometimes twisted for extra effect.

Tank: Just like a tank top, this bodice is sleeveless with thin or thick straps.

Necklines

Bateau: The straps on this neckline are at mid-shoulders with the fabric reaching in a gentle dip across the chest and back.

Halter: Like a halter top or bikini top, this neckline ties around the back of the neck. The front might be plain or with a keyhole opening.

High collar: The chest and base of the neck of this bodice are covered by fabric. A high collar may be accented with a keyhole cutout at the chest through which a piece of jewelry shows.

Jewel: This is a rounded neckline sitting at the base of the throat.

Off-the-shoulder: The shoulders and collarbone of this neckline are bare, with fabric wrapping around the upper arms. 

One-shoulder: The neckline angles up toward the one shoulder that features a strap, leaving the other shoulder bare.

Portrait: This is an off-the-shoulder neckline which scoops down into a more rounded cut.

Queen Anne: With covered shoulders and a high back, the front of this neckline is shaped like the bottom of a heart.

Sabrina: This is similar to a bateau neckline, but starting two inches higher for a more demure look.

Scoop: This is a rounded neckline like the bottom half of a circle.

Strapless: As the name suggests, there are no straps, and the neckline can go straight across, or dip down in a curved design.

Square: The straps of this neckline come straight down to a vertical line of fabric across the bust, presenting a square shape.

Sweetheart: This neckline has rounded fabric over the bust, meeting in a V-neck point in the middle. The heart shape gives it its name.

V-neck: The fabric in this neckline extends downward in an angled V-shape at the top of the chest, or it may be lower if the bride wants to show some cleavage.

Sleeves

Balloon: This sleeve is full, round and balloon-shaped over the shoulder and upper arm, narrowing over the lower arm and wrist.

Bell: This sleeve is fitted over the bicep and then flares slightly outward like a bell over the forearm. This detail adds interest and something special to a simpler and more classic gown. 

Bishop: This sleeve puffs a bit at the shoulder, then expands fuller over the arm and is gathered at the wrist. This is a very casual and natural look.

Cap: This sleeve offers a short extension to a sleeveless look, offering a ‘pouf’ of fabric over the shoulder, gathering under or against the very top of the arm.

Dolman: This sleeve is also known as the ‘batwing’ style, where the fabric begins very wide at the ribcage or waist, then narrows at the wrist.

Fitted point: This is a long, fitted sleeve that extends to a point-shape at the wrist or top of the hand.

Gauntlet: This sleeve has a pouf at the top of the arm, then a separate section that covers the entire arm, coming to a point at the top of the hand. The bottom section may be a full-length glove for removal later.

Gigot: This sleeve has a large, round pouf over the shoulder, then narrowing over the arm to encircle the wrist.

Illusion: This type of sleeve has sheer netting-type material that forms a see-through sleeve yet offers the illusion of coverage. This type of sleeve is suitable for brides who wish to discreetly cover their upper arms.

Juliet: This is a full sleeve that extends down to the wrist, with a ‘puff’ accent at the shoulder and upper arm. 

Off the Shoulder: This kind of sleeve wraps across the upper arms, leaving the shoulders bare.

Petal: These short sleeves are made of two to three different panels that overlap to look like a tulip in bloom.

Poet: This sleeve is fitted close over the upper arm, and then flares out widely from the elbow, with long ruffles at the wrist length. This sleeve has a heritage feel, movement and flow, and is a romantic accent to a traditional gown.

Pouf: This is a larger cap sleeve, ending lower on the arm.

Spaghetti straps: A strapless dress is held up by a skinny strap or fabric band over each shoulder.

Tee shirt: Extending three to four inches below your shoulders, this sleeve type resembles the traditional tee shirt sleeve cut.

Three-quarter: This sleeve extends from the shoulder to mid-forearm.

Tulip: This sleeve has a petal-shape, with several flaps of fabric overlapping to resemble a flower. It is also called the ‘criss-cross sleeve.’

Trains

Brush: This type of train reaches just to the floor beneath your dress hem, ‘brushing’ the floor as you walk. This style works with virtually all wedding types as it can be formal to less formal. It is appropriate for outdoor weddings for its lack of drag, and is fine for beach weddings. Brides say they can move most easily in this type of train. Walking, turning and moving is not a problem during the ceremony, and brides do not need to carry around yards of bustled fabric all night.

Castillion: This is a very long French-inspired train which is often over 10 feet long.

Cathedral: This type of train is attached at the waist and extends dramatically 6-8 feet behind the gown. It is often chosen for ultra-formal church weddings.

Chapel: A formal to semi-formal style, the chapel train attaches at the waist and extends 3 to 4 feet behind the gown.

Court: Short and maneuverable, the court train attaches at the waist and extends behind the bride for 1 to 2 feet.

Royal: This is also known as the ‘Monarch’ train, as it has been used in royal wedding dresses, for example, Princess Diana. An ultra-formal style, the royal train extends ten feet or more from where it is attached at the waist.

Semi-cathedral: Extending for a length of 5 to 7 feet behind the dress, this semi-formal to formal train is a mix of chapel and cathedral-length.

Watteau: This train attaches at the shoulders or the top of the back and most often falls to the bottom hem of the dress. It may also be designed to reach just a little bit beyond the hem.

Fabrics

Batiste: This is a lightweight cotton fabric, which is so thin it is almost transparent.

Brocade: This is a woven fabric that is appropriate in fall and winter. It is heavier in weight with a raised floral or ribbon design.

Charmeuse: This is a lightweight, semi-satin fabric known for its softness, as a blend of silk or rayon.

Chiffon: This is a very soft, delicate fabric in silk or rayon. It is extremely sheer and is often layered for modesty.

Crepe: This is a thin, lightweight fabric with a rippled texture, often in silk or polyester.

Crepe de Chine: This is a version of crepe made from silk and featuring tiny bumps as a texture in the fabric.

Damask: This is a lighter-weight silk, linen, cotton, or synthetic fabric featuring woven patterns of fruit, flowers, or other motifs.

Duchesse Satin: This is a light blend of silk and rayon (or polyester) that has a satin finish.

Dupioni: Most often 100% silk, this is a thicker, shinier version of shantung, with distinctive slubs in the weave.

English net: Not to be confused with tulle, this netting is softer and has a bit of stretch to it.

Faced satin: This is a soft version of satin, made from 100% silk.

Gabardine: This is a firm fabric with a diagonal pattern to the stitching.

Georgette: This is a sheer, light blend made of polyester or silk with a less-than-smooth, non-shiny texture.

Illusion: This is a sheer, thin netting often used for sleeves and as a modesty cover for the cleavage.

Jersey: This is a very soft knit fabric, most often 100% cotton, worn as an informal fabric at weddings.

Moiré: This is a heavy silk taffeta with a wavy pattern, and has a watermark pattern woven into it.

Organdy: This is a sheer and transparent fabric that is firmer and stiffer than other fabrics.

Organza: This is a stiffer, heavier version of chiffon which is popular for skirts due to its flowing nature.

Peau de Soie: This is a soft silk which is actually a heavier, non-shine satin with slight ribs and texture.

Rayon: This is a step below silk, with a bit more stretch.

Satin: This is a smooth fabric with lots of shine which is woven from silk or polyester, with notable shine on one side of the fabric and a duller texture on the underside.

Shantung: Woven from silk, shantung resembles dupioni, but with a much lighter weight and texture.

Silk: This is the most popular fabric for wedding dresses, with softness and shine.

Silk Gazar: This is a layered silk organza, often with four layers.

Silk Mikado: This is a heavier, thicker form of blended silk, often a choice for weddings in cooler weather.

Taffeta: This is a thicker fabric with movement, with slight ribbing in the weave.

Tulle: This is a silk, nylon, or rayon semi-sheer netting, most often seen in veils and crinolines.

Velvet: This is a thick, soft fabric with a short, felted pile and may be made from silk. Velvet with more of a matte or patterned design may be crushed velvet.

Laces

Alencon: This is a popular, delicate design of lace that includes images of flowers and arches on netting, with the edges embroidered with or without accenting such as beading.

Battenberg: This lace features floral or geometric designs created by forming loops of linen connected by threadwork.

Chantilly: This lace features intricate floral, scallop and ribbon designs set on a fine net background.

Duchesse: This lace features floral or lace arch and scroll designs, often with raised stitching for more texture.

Guipure: This lace features large, repetitive patterns of florals or geometrics set in a circular pattern, connected by delicate threadwork.

Lyon: This lace is a lighter-weight version of Alencon, with a thinner cord.

Schiffli: This is a very lightweight lace with intricate embroidery, often floral, with intertwined design and connecting threading.

Spanish: This lace is based on a standard net background featuring a rose motif.

Venice or Venise: This is a strip of embroidery-style heavy lace not attached to netting, often in floral and geometric designs. This type of lace is often used to be cut into appliqués.

Headpieces

Backpiece: Instead of a traditional headpiece or tiara, a hair clip or comb is attached to the back of the head, and the veil is attached to that.

Bunwrap: This is a circular clip or band that contains hair styled into a bun, or encircles part of an up-do.

Comb or haircomb: A simple or jeweled comb may be used as the sole hair décor, or as the attachment for a veil.

Crown: As the name implies, this is a small and simple or larger and more ornate, jewel-studded full crown that attaches to your head via hair combs or clips. Choose the size depending on your personality – choose small and delicate for a romantic, regal look, or large and dramatic.

Half-crown: This is a half-circle crown of fabric-and-comb headpiece that is held in place by hidden or jeweled hairpins.

Headband: A full headwrap or slide-on clip, the headband may be made of a solid fabric such as a shiny satin, or may be pearl or crystal-adorned.

headpiece

Juliet cap: This is a circular cap that fits over the top of the head, either simple or adorned, worn either alone or as the attachment for a veil. The Juliet cap is named for its style reminiscent of Shakespearean plays.

Profile: This is a jeweled piece, much like a wide or thin design barrette, attached to the hair, most often to the side of the hair.

Snood: This is a patterned, lace or crocheted ‘bun holder’ that fully encases and secures an up-do.

Tapered headband: The middle of this type of headband is wider than the narrower ends of the headband.

Tiara: This is a partial crown piece affixed to the crown of the head, often held in place by combs on the sides and with additional pins. Tiaras may be thin with minimal adornment, or much larger and ornate, featuring gemstones, crystals, pearls or tiny ceramic flowers.

Wreath: This is full circle made from flowers and greenery, which also may be adorned with beads and crystals.

Veils

Ballet: This veil falls to a length between the knee and the ankle, providing great movement.

Blusher: This is a single layer, shorter veil that is worn over the face during the ceremony, and then flipped back over the head after the ceremony. It can be worn alone and then removed after the ceremony, or paired as a layer to a longer veil.

Cathedral: The most formal style of veil, a cathedral veil is usually paired with a cathedral-length train. As such, the veil extends 3 ½ yards from the headpiece, with a significant amount trailing behind the bride as she walks.

Chapel: This formal style of veil extends 2 ½ yards from the headpiece, extending over the train.

Double-tier: This veil has two layers, with one shorter length set over a longer length. This may be a combination of a blusher or fingertip and a longer veil.

Elbow: This veil extends down to the elbows, a popular look for less formal weddings where the bride still seeks the bridal touch.

Fingertip: This veil extends down to the fingertips when the arms are hanging straight. This is the most versatile and most popular veil length for its ease of mobility.

Flyaway: As a more informal style, this veil reaches just down to shoulder-length or an inch or two below the shoulders.

Fountain: This veil is gathered at the crown of the head, creating a cascading effect around the face. It is most often seen in shoulder- or elbow-length to maximize volume, but may also be created in fingertip length.

Mantilla: This Spanish-style of veil is traditionally circular in shape, made of lace, tulle or chiffon, and is most often worn draped over the head, clipped into place at the temples with jeweled pins or combs, cascading elegantly over the shoulders and down the back. The modern style mantilla veil includes a tulle or chiffon veil with intricate lace designs around the edges, and the length may be cathedral length as well.

Pouf: The pouf veil is made by gathering the veil material where it connects to the headpiece, creating a natural ‘pouf’ to a shoulder-length veil. 

Waltz: This length veil reaches from the bride’s headpiece to the hem of her dress.

Gloves

Full-length: These are full-length gloves that reach from the fingertips all the way up to near the shoulders, perfect with a strapless or sleeveless dress. They may be plain or with 6, 8 or 10 buttons as accents up the arm.

Elbow-length: These gloves reach from the fingertips to just above or just below the elbow.

Wrist-length: These gloves reach from the fingertips to just above or just below the wrist.

Open finger-gloves: These come in any length as mentioned above, but the fingers are exposed. Most often, the glove attaches via a ring on the middle finger, to provide the smooth silk or lace covering of the glove with full use of the fingers during the ceremony, ring exchange, handling the candle taper, or signing a Ketubah.

Opera-length: This is a full, long glove that extends to the top or middle of the upper arm, most often with 12-16 buttons.

Short: The end of the glove is two inches above the wrist, and is also called a ‘one-button glove.’

Additional Gown Elements

Appliques: These are fabric or lace cut-outs affixed to the gown, train or veil.

Apron: This is extra material added to a skirt that looks somewhat like a kitchen apron and makes the skirt look fuller.

Beading: This refers to the embellishments created by gluing or sewing crystals, bugle beads, pearls, gemstones or other accents onto the bodice, hems or other elements of the ensemble.

Border trim:This is an embellishment added to bodice edges, straps, and hems, in ruffled, scalloped or braided designs.

Bustle: A bustle is made by gathering the train up and attaching it securely via obscured clips or hooks at the back of the dress, presenting an attractive gathered effect above the gown’s skirt.

Crinoline: These are the layers of tulle or netting worn under the gown’s top layers to add extra volume to a full skirt. Crinoline may be attached to the dress, or added as a separate undergarment.

Edging: This is a narrow trim for hems, straps or veils, created from lace, embroidery, beading, or other accents.

Embroidery: This is a hand- or machine-stitched decorative design created on the gown, bodice, train, or veil. Patterns vary from straight lines to intricate designs.

Paillettes: Paillettes are large round sequins sewn onto the fabric which dangle to provide movement.

Ruching: This decorative look is made by gathering or pleating the fabric, and is often seen on a skirt’s waistline.

Seed pearls: These are tiny real pearls used to embellish gowns, trains, veils and other elements. Pearls in irregular shapes are called baroque pearls.

Shirring: This decorative look is created by gathering fabric up into 3 or more parallel lines, often extending down vertically under a waistline, or used as an accent on shoulder straps.

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